Monday, December 31, 2012

Read the Printed Word!


The Sixes Have It!
by Kasey Cox

Forget books on improving your memory, or keeping your mind sharp. Move on from Sudoku and Kakuro and Jumbles puzzles. Put down the books by Bill Adler, Jr., like Outwitting Deer and Outwitting Squirrels, which were really just mind games for you and the varmints in your backyard. If you really want to tie your brain in knots and have fun with words, try writing a sestina.

You probably remember studying Shakespearean sonnets or writing haiku in school. Compared to many forms of poetry, the sestina is a wonderfully freeing format: nothing has to rhyme; there is no counting of syllables; you don’t have to figure out what part of a word is emphasized in pronunciation. No iambic pentameter, no strict rhyme schemes, no rules about the length of the lines. The poet is free to write about whatever she likes, using short sentences in modern slang or flowery romantic phrases or anything in between.

There is, however, a catch. This is the part that will work your brain, more than any puzzle book you’ve been carrying around in your car. What makes the poem a sestina is the constant use of six (you can see the Latin root for “six” in “ses”, like “seis” in Spanish). To write a sestina, you choose six words. Make sure you like them a lot, and that they make some sense together, because you’ll be using them over and over again. Your six words will be the last word in each of the six lines of a stanza, called a “sestet” since it has six lines. A sestina is composed of – what else? – six sestets, with a “tercet” (or three-lined) stanza to finish. It might be a little more of a challenge than the shorter haiku, but still sounds fairly open, right? It is, but…

Each of the six words you chose to use is assigned a number: that’s how you figure out which words needs to end the next line that you’re writing. In the first sestet, it’s easy: the lines end with word #1, word #2, and so on, respectively, one through six, in normal numeric order. In the second sestet, however, each line ends with the words in the following order: word #6, word #1, word #5, word #2, word #4, and word #3. In the third sestet, the order changes again, and so on, until the six words that end each of the lines of the first stanza are repeated in a different order at the end of lines in each of the subsequent stanzas.

This pattern of which words end which lines in each sestet is not randomly chosen. When finished, the reader (or listener) will see a recurrent pattern known as “lexical repetition.” Instead of internal rhyming, or repetition of certain sounds – techniques such as consonance or assonance – used in other forms of poetry, a sestina repeats the entire word, bouncing it around to give it new meanings and new emphasis. For example, the first line of each sestet ends with the same word with which the last line of the previous sestet ended.

Now that I have you thoroughly scared and confused, here are some numbers to soothe the Sudoku folks among us. In writing a sestina, here is the pattern of word repetition that you’ll use: the words the end the lines are represented by the numbers 1 through 6.

Sestina form, then, is this: 1 2 3 4 5 6 - (End words of lines in first sestet.)
6 1 5 2 4 3 - (End words of lines in second sestet.)
3 6 4 1 2 5 - (End words of lines in third sestet.)
5 3 2 6 1 4 - (End words of lines in fourth sestet.)
4 5 1 3 6 2 - (End words of lines in fifth sestet.)
2 4 6 5 3 1 - (End words of lines in sixth sestet.)

Then, ending with the three line stanza, the tercet, containing the selected words, but using them in the middle and end of each line, in the following pattern: (6 2) (1 4) (5 3).

Get out some scratch paper – or better yet, dedicate a whole little notebook to your project. Select six words and start figuring out what you’d like to convey with them. Sestinas have been written since the 11th century, in many different languages, on every topic from war to romance to vampires to “some of the words of Yogi Berra.” The only limit is the word that ends the line.

Hobo’s next book will be in sestina form, about how he lives with GYPSY, comes to WORK at the BOOKSTORE, LOVES the people, NAPS in the sun, and rides in the CAR back home. Although those words are easy, and commonplace, the book is still definitely a work in progress. Cheer him on by sending him samples of your own efforts at the sestina, at or by joining him at monthly writers’ group at the bookstore!

Sunday, December 30, 2012

A Force of Nature

Read the Printed Word!


A Force of Nature

by Kasey Cox

There is a small patch of fur that keeps tickling my nose as it blows in the Arctic winds, but that doesn’t matter, because I am snuggled in tight against my wolf brothers and sisters, and our pile is warm. For once, my belly is completely full because Amaroq brought down a caribou bull today and we have all been able to eat our fill. The sky above us is full of wheels of green, pink, and blue lights, and …

“Come to dinner!!”

I don’t need human dinner, because I am now part of this family of wolves; they have accepted me; I have learned their language, their mannerisms, their hierarchy of leadership, and…

“Kasey, did you hear me?! Dinner is ready!!”

Ugh. With those words, I am finally torn away from my exciting adventure with the Eskimo girl, Julie (whose Eskimo name is “Miyax”) and the wolves she lived with on the Arctic tundra.

A seventh grade reading mini-course featuring children’s stories about survival introduced me to the joy of Jean Craighead George’s nature-focused literature for children. For many others, their first experience was with Sam Gribley, in My Side of the Mountain.

My Side of the Mountain was selected as a Newbery Honor Book when it was first written in 1959, and went on to thrill generations of those interested in children’s literature, selling to date over eight million copies, translated into more than twelve languages. In a video interview in January 2009, for the book’s fiftieth anniversary, George explains how pleased she has been to watch the “Mountain” stories evolve, from isolation to community to world-wide connections, just as the character of Sam Gribley does across the books in this trilogy, from My Side of the Mountain to On the Far Side of the Mountain to Frightful’s Mountain. For over fifty years, adults who read these stories as children continued to write and email Ms. George to tell her how these books had influenced them – to become park rangers, environmental scientists, raptor rescue volunteers, falconers, and weekend outdoor enthusiasts.

Though My Side of the Mountain first won her recognition as an author, it was Julie of the Wolves that won her the Newbery Award for children’s literature in 1973, and established her reputation as one of great children’s authors of this century. Julie of the Wolves continues to be included on lists such as “the Top Ten Best American Children’s Books” written in the last 200 years (according to the Children’s Literature Association). Altogether, over her nearly 93 year life, George wrote, illustrated, or co-authored close to 100 works, with more than 80 of those written specifically to celebrate nature and share it with children.

These books include “eco-mysteries” such as Who Killed Cock Robin? and The Missing Gator of Gumbo-Limbo; picture books for younger readers, detailing life among an amazing variety of animal life; funny chapter books such as There’s an Owl in the Shower; and outdoor life guidebooks, such as the one she was working on with her children and grandchildren, just in the last year, as a companion to the “Mountain” series.

It should come as no surprise that Jean Craighead George studied for degrees in Science and in Literature, graduating from Penn State University in 1941 before moving to Washington, D.C. where her early writing career included reporting for the Washington Post, working as a member of the White House Press Corps, writing regularly for Reader’s Digest, and serving as an artist and art director at Pageant magazine. She married Dr. John L. George in 1944: together, they had three children, and collaborated at first on six children’s books. As soon as the kids could carry backpacks of their own, George was fond of saying, they took many family camping and hiking trips. They also allowed nature to live in and around their home, where more than 170 various animals took up temporary residence, becoming inspiration for many of Jean Craighead George’s books.

Jean continued to write, create, speak, teach, draw, and collaborate on books right up until her death, on May 18, 2012, less than two months shy of her 93rd birthday. Her goal, even in her final years, as is stated quite plainly on her website and in her interviews, was to share with children “the wonder of nature… and, when the telling… was done, she hoped they would want to protect all the beautiful creatures and places.” It is no small feat to create one or two solid books that are read and enjoyed by children; it is quite another to leave behind a legacy of the size and scope that Jean Craighead George has given the world.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Moonlight Becomes You

Read the Printed Word!


"Moonlight Becomes You"
by Kasey Cox

(originally published in Gazette at the end of April 2012)

As the “supermoon” climbed over the horizon a week ago, on Saturday evening, May 5, I watched with awe and appreciation. When the moon is at its perigee as it was this May 2012, it is actually at the closest point in its elliptical orbit around the Earth. At perigee, the moon is nearly 50,000 kilometers closer to Earth than when it is at its apogee, the furthest point in the moon’s oval orbit path. The perigee moon of this past Saturday, therefore, appeared 14% ‘bigger’ to us and up to 30% brighter, according to NASA’s “Science at Nasa” public education videos.

Folklore, popular beliefs, and everyday anecdotes abound concerning the effects of the full moon. People swear more babies are born; ambulance drivers, EMTs, and police are busier; animals yowl restlessly; and everyone is subject to “lunacy” in one form or another. Books and movies continually reinvent the story of the werewolf – tormented by the return of the full moon, ravaging the community around him.

With her latest book, The Next Full Moon, author Carolyn Turgeon gives readers a different story woven with the moon’s phases, using a less well-known folk tale. All of Turgeon’s books have the tone of magical realism, where the mundane and realistic blend seamlessly with the fantastic and magical. Like two of Turgeon’s other novels, The Next Full Moon is a contemporary take on an old fairy tale.

Turgeon’s novel Mermaid has its roots in Hans Christian Andersen’s ‘Little Mermaid’; Godmother is a new twist on the old Cinderella story. The Next Full Moon uses the legend of the swan maiden. Most cultures have a story similar to the swan maiden, in which a woman, who is able to shapeshift into a magical creature by using an enchanted cloak. The animal she changes into differs by the geographical location of the culture that created the legend: in some stories, the maiden changes into a fox, a crane, a seal, a buffalo, or a dove, instead of a swan, but the motif remains the same. The maiden falls in love with a human man, marries him, bears his children, but eventually, despite her love for her children, she returns to her life as a magical being.

The Next Full Moon has none of the darker elements that many stories of the swan maiden include. Twelve year old Ava Lewis’s father didn’t trick his wife into marrying him, or hold her captive by stealing her cloak of swan feathers. The story of Ava’s parents is a true, bittersweet love story, perfect for the tween and teen readers for whom this book was written. Ava was always told that her mom died when she was three, and that one of the ways her father copes with his loss is by going flyfishing by the light of the full moon. Though Ava is horrified to find herself growing feathers, all the initial teen angst about body changes and boy’s reactions and peers’ teasing, eventually transform, like Ava herself, into something more wonderful.

Perhaps what is most endearing and wonderful about The Next Full Moon is Ava herself. Turgeon has created a fresh, realistic character, who speaks, thinks, worries, and reacts like we would expect a twelve-almost-thirteen-year-old girl to do. Readers will be charmed to know Ava, and believe that she could walk right out of the pages of the book into the local middle school… and, thus, we can relate to Ava, even as she finds the magical parts of her family’s story.

Thanks to author Carolyn Turgeon, I will no longer think of werewolves, or the ER, or of crimes being committed on the night of the full moon. Since I read her new young adult fantasy, The Next Full Moon, upon seeing the bright, gorgeous orb rising in the night sky, I will smile and think of lovely swan maidens.

Kasey's end of the year catch-up

Read the Printed Word!


I always end up doing this: at the end of the year, after Christmas, I play "catch up" with the blog, posting all the columns I wrote this past year that DIDN'T get copied to "Hobo's Books" after appearing in the local newspapers.

I would like to have them available here, especially since our editor, Natalie Kennedy, wants some feedback as to which 3 articles she might send in from each of us to "compete" for the Keystone Awards.

I'd love to have feedback from you folks -- any friends, readers, bloggers, bookstore lovers -- who might have a little time to read over some of our posts/articles/columns from the last year, to see which ones you like best.

As 2012 draws to a close, I answered a question in my "Q & A a Day" journal: "Do you want to know how it ends?" My answer this year is: "absolutely not!" If I knew what was going to happen in advance, there are so many things I probably wouldn't have done, and my life would be less rich for fearing to take certain risks. 2012 was a rockier road than I ever imagined it would be, but for all that, I'm glad to be here, and am looking forward to 2013.

So, here goes a quick slide back through many of my columns for 2012! Enjoy the ride!


Friday, December 28, 2012

Death from the Skies!

Kevin Coolidge

Comets, gamma ray bursts, ginormous* space spiders--the universe is trying to kill me. Don’t look so smug. I’m not paranoid. It’s trying to kill you too. It’s trying to kill us all. It’s not a matter of if, but only when and how. Stars explode. Galaxies collide. Black holes swallow whole solar systems. It’s nothing personal. The universe is a dangerous place.

A single asteroid impact could easily take out most of humanity. One ended the reign of the dinosaurs. A solar flare could fry our satellite systems, strip away the layers of the atmosphere, crash the DOW, boil the oceans, and totally wreck the Christmas shopping season. Aliens could land on the White House lawn, demand homage, and make me wish that the only country to actually work on a Gauss rifle actually had a defense budget. Even our sun is on a damn timer.

You’ve heard this before. Every time an asteroid is predicted to pass Earth, the media plays up the danger and ignores the actual likelihood of such an event. The odds of the Earth getting hit are less than the chance of winning the Powerball and you are much more likely to win an Oscar than win the lottery. When is the last time you even had a paying role? Face it, at your age, you are unlikely to land that breakthrough role.

If you really want to know what to expect when a burst of cosmic radiation sterilizes all life down to the base of the crust, then read Death from the Skies! by Philip Plait Ph.D. He will go over, in loving detail, how there could be no warning: the wave moving at the velocity of light, the surge of death its own declaration. Gamma ray bursts happen every day somewhere in the universe, but it’s a pretty big universe.

Phil reminds us that there is no star nearby capable of creating such a burst, and even if there were, the odds of it going off soon are miniscule, and the odds of it being aimed our way…astronomical. Still it’s fun to think about “What if…?”

Black holes, supernovae, cosmic blowtorches, sunburn—there are dangers out there, and we can’t ignore them, but if you read this book, you’ll learn just what the dangers are and more importantly, what they aren’t. The universe may be a dangerous place, but if you are reading this, we’ve made it past December 21st, 2012. We may just make it a little longer…

*Yes, it’s officially a word now. It means very fracking big. It’s in the dictionary. No, fracking as used here isn’t in the dictionary. It’s used as an expletive in the original TV series Battlestar Galactica which is fitting, because if we don’t leave this planet, we are all going to fracking die…

Death from above? Or “What, me worry?” Email me at and let me know (if we aren’t all fried crispy) Miss a past column? Well, if we aren’t living underground sucking fungi off rocks, you can read past columns at Looking for a book with a happy ending? You should take your mind off the Earth’s imminent destruction. Read “Hobo Finds a Home” a children’s book that’s happy and innocent and totally innocuous to our ELE (that extermination level event, not everybody love everybody…)

Monday, December 24, 2012

Krampus is coming to town

Kevin Coolidge

A series of strange reports have been coming in from all across Tioga and Potter Counties of oddly dressed individuals that appear to have glowing eyes and horns. These bizarre incidents seem to be connected to a rash of home invasions. Some area residents are claiming it’s the Jersey Devil or Christmas demons, some locals are blaming the trouble on drug dealers disguised in odd costumes. Sources confirm that gang activity is suspected, though local authorities will only say they are investigating. No one has been able to explain dozens of reports of a flying sleigh pulled by goats…

Is it a hoax, or has Santa been replaced? I interviewed Catherine, age eleven, of Wellsboro. Catherine recounts a tale of a tall, horned beast with a tail, who claims the title Krampus, Lord of Yule. He left her a gold coin after she left a package of beef jerky and an old copy of White Fang by her shoes on the porch. She also added that those who don’t offer something risk getting put in a sack and whipped. I interviewed other children in the area and heard variations of this very strange tale…

Saint Nicholas may reward the nice children with gifts, but it is Krampus, a creature from Germanic folklore, that punishes the naughty ones. It is said that if you are particularly naughty, he throws you in his sack and carries you to his lair.

Krampus is celebrated on Krampusnact, which takes place December 5th, the eve of Saint Nicholas Day. In Austria, celebrants masquerade as hairy devils and dance, drink, and run through the streets through the streets terrifying children and adults.

The Austrian government started to discourage the practice, and even prohibited it for a time, but recently there has been a resurgence of Krampus celebrations. Krampusnacht is increasingly being celebrated in other parts of Europe such as Finland and France, as well as many American cities—such as Detroit. There’s been public debate in Austria about whether Krampus is appropriate for children.

In modern times, Saint Nicholas has upgraded his image. He’s dropped the bishop garb and added a red suit. He’s traded his horse and staff for a sleigh and reindeer, moved the date to Christmas Eve, and got rid of the competition. He’s banished Krampus and stolen his magic. Santa thought he could punish the naughty, but children have lost all fear of Santa and his lumps of coal. It’s time for Krampus to take back what is his, to take back Yuletide.

Read all about one possible scenario in the new novel by artist and author Brom, entitled Krampus, the Yule Lord. It’s Christmas Eve, and struggling songwriter, Jesse Walker, witnesses a strange sight: seven devilish figures chasing a fat man in a red suit. Moments later a large sack plummets to earth, a magical sack that will thrust Jesse into the clutches of the terrifying Krampus, Yule Lord, and dark enemy of Santa Claus.

Santa’s time is running short, for Krampus is determined to have his retribution and reclaim the holiday season. If Jesse can survive this ancient feud, he just might have a chance to redeem himself and save his broken dreams, and to help spread the magic of the season…

Monday, December 3, 2012

Leaving Legacy

Kevin Coolidge

Animals, adventure, long cold treks between the stars, it was impossible to keep me in books growing up. I couldn’t get enough, but I couldn’t keep all those books. There wasn’t room or money enough. Just one of many reasons to love the library in town, the library at school, because I could read the books and take them back, leaving room for more, but some books one can’t let go.

The books we choose to keep and display can say a lot about who we are and how we see ourselves. My grandfather wasn’t an avid reader, but he always kept a hardcover edition of Keeper of the Bees near the warmth of the wood stove. It’s a poignant tale of a wounded veteran of the Great War finding peace and hope through the healing hands of nature. Why was it so cherished? Is it because the war to end all wars broke the spirit of a loved one? Is it because my grandpa too knew the wisdom of the woods? He’s gone now, and I don’t know.

How well do you really know the older people in your family? How will you make sure their stories will be preserved for generations to come? Today’s world is so different from yesterday’s, and there’s a wealth of stories waiting to be heard. You’ve thought of bringing a tape recorder or a notebook, but haven’t.

Homemade Biography is a practical guide to recording a relative’s story so it will never be forgotten. Tom Zoellner draws on his own personal experience to give you everything you will need to finish what could be the most fulfilling conversation you’ll ever have.

Tom is a journalist and an author. He has spent all day interviewing people and writing stories. When his grandma had a bad fall, he realized she wouldn’t be around forever. He didn’t want to forget her. Why shouldn’t he write her story?

It all starts with the first session. You have to get permission to document someone’s life. In most cases, this is easy. Many people yearn for a respectful listener. Respect and curiosity is important. You don’t want to just turn on a tape recorder and say, “So…tell me about your life.” You may not want to use a recorder at all, as it may feel more like an interrogation than an interview.

You really only need a pencil and notebook to start a timeline. Dates and locations of another’s life can be easily jumbled for those who didn’t live through it. This will save an enormous amount of trouble later. The timeline is a great way to ease into somebody’s life story, and it conveys your desire to get things right.

You might be worrying about getting this right. You aren’t a professional writer. He’s included several interview techniques, questions to provoke vivid responses, and ways of finding a connective theme in a jumble of facts. Tom also has included case studies of successful family biographies.

A homemade biography has the potential to set off a family conflict, but it can also heal old wounds and help seniors recall good times. Tom includes some of the most common landmines, and the ways you can defuse them ahead of time—such as talking with veterans about their war experiences.

Taking down a history of a relative can be rewarding in ways you may never have considered. It can bring generations closer together. It’s a record of life that goes deeper than names and dates on a family tree. It reminds us all that our lives are interesting – worth living and worth remembering…

Worth saving? Or let history rest? Email me at and let me know. Miss a past column? You can repeat yourself at and catch up. Looking for a memoir with meow? Get “Hobo Finds a Home” a children’s book about a kitten who wrote his own story…